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"One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey 'The Kid' Ungar" Review

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TitleOne of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey "The Kid" Ungar
AuthorNolan Dalla & Peter Alson
Skill Levelany
ProsAn incredible story of an amazing, tender-hearted card genius who beat the best players in the world at gin and poker.
ConsAn incredible story of an arrogant, uncouth, gambling degenerate who lost to the vig and drugs. Very little poker.

Table of Contents
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xiForeword by Mike Sexton
xvA Note to the Reader
1The Kid1
5Bookmaker's Boy2
23Gin Joints, Big Dogs, and Monkey's Business3
45A Made Man4
59Beginnings and Endings5
69Raising the Stakes6
81Both Ends Against the Middle7
97The Second Time Around8
117World Champ9
133A Taste of Honey10
145High Rolling11
167Cards in the Air12
181The Hand of Death and the Sport of Kings13
197Get Up, Stand Up14
211Heart of a Champ15
227Chasing the Dragon16
241The Comeback Kid17
283The River Card19
301Selected Reading

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Stu Ungar's biography, sadly not the intended autobiography, is titled in full One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey "The Kid" Ungar. He was tremendous at detecting weakness in his opponents and relentless in attacking it when he spotted it. Unfortunately, he couldn't bluff his way to good health with his bad hygiene,1 terrible eating habits, and unrestrained drug abuse.

Like Check-Raising the Devil, Ungar's book serves as a cautionary tale about the evils of drugs.2 He flew much higher than Mike Matusow, winning the Main Events of three World Series of Poker and three Super Bowls of Poker, and crashed much harder, landing in the hospital a couple of times before eventually succumbing at age 45.

Nolan Dalla interviewed Stu Ungar many times in 1998 when the former prodigy was beginning to feel his mortality. Quotes from the native New Yorker appear throughout the book, providing excellent insight into what he was thinking on numerous occasions where a saner person would have chosen a different path.

Ungar was already able to handle his father's gambling bookmaking records at age 8. He made his first mark in the world by defeating many of the best gin players in New York City at age 16. When he was banned from gin tournaments in Las Vegas (because his amazing skill scared too many players from entering) and from blackjack (because his memory let him go far beyond card-counting to tracking of all of the cards), he turned to poker.

Bankrolled and, equally importantly, protected by the Genovese crime family, Stuey took on all comers in gin and could have lived comfortably from the income if he didn't like to bet on horses and sports, two gambling arenas in which he had absolutely no edge and thus couldn't overcome the vig. He never stopped wagering significant portions of his bankroll because that was how he got his thrills.

If Ungar was precocious as a child, in many ways he remained a man-child mentally as he grew older. He never had a bank account, only obtained a driver's license through bribery, dodged the draft similarly,3 finally obtained a Social Security number because the Horseshoe wouldn't pay his tournament winnings without one, didn't know how to cook or even boil water, didn't take care of his teeth, couldn't wash his own hair, rarely showered, and only changed his clothes occasionally (like when his wife told him to).

But he reached the top of the world in gin and poker with unmatched talent. And after wasting away over a decade to drugs, he rebounded in 1997 to become 'The Comeback Kid' before the final downfall of his poetic and riveting Shakespearean tragedy.

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